Notes on AWP 2015 from a Canadian first-timer
In no particular order…
1. America: the service really is better, notwithstanding the grumpy man at the New York Times booth (Picture not available).
2. But all the medical ads are unsettling. Also, did you know the art gallery doesn’t allow guns on the premises? Now you do.
3. Okay: AWP. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the biggest writers’ conference in North America, with more than 500 sessions, 700 trade show exhibitors, and about 12,000 delegates; this year’s event was in Minneapolis, which is why I decided to go (it’s possible to drive down from Winnipeg). First thing that became obvious: the book fair (trade show) really is where it’s at. I mean, there were good sessions, and I wish I’d seen more of them, but there were really more opportunities to meet people and gather information in the book fair.
4. Do I need to declare free swag at the border?
5. At Canadian writing gatherings, I find people struggle to talk about poetry. It’s often not presented well; people make jokes about it; poets are a bit sheepish and self-deprecating and apologetic. Basically, poetry gets relegated to second-class. Not so here. There were featured poetry readings, poetry presses by the score, poets collaborating with museums and art galleries and film makers, and just a general attitude of respect for poetry that I don’t normally feel when writers get together. Or maybe I’m just totally insecure and imagining that.
6. And about collaboration: I saw so much of it! Maybe it’s just that the sheer size of the community offers so many more opportunities, but it was really inspiring. It makes me want to write proposals.
7. Memorable panel moment: to paraphrase panelist Roxane Gay, nothing “substantial” can be accomplished in a 600-700 word article whether on-line or elsewhere, and if you can’t read long articles, you should go “have a conversation with your God.”
8. Things I’d do differently if I came again: plan ahead and get a hotel near the conference centre so I can attend more events, and go to some of the social events to meet more people.
9. I’ll be interested to hear how much business the Canadian presses did at the book fair. There were so few there! Is it always thus? Is it just not enough business to be worth the expense?
10. Last, there were a lot of regionally themed sessions at the event, but hardly anyone from Manitoba came down. It seemed a shame–there were sessions about North Dakota literature, so why not something about Canadian Prairie writers? Ah, well, that moment has passed, and the next conference is in L.A.
So, those are my ten disjointed thoughts about AWP. I’d like to go again some day–but probably not next year.